Thursday, February 19, 2009

The Music of the Bee Gees Makes Me Want to Destroy Things

The music of the Bee Gees makes me want to destroy things.

I should give some context, perhaps. You see, I live in a very old house built during the brief tenure of William Henry Harrison as commander-in-chief of these States and therefore my wife and I often find ourselves spending weekends doing things like reframing doorjambs and replacing kitchen floors. This last weekend we demolished our bathroom -- taking out all of the walls, fixtures, and plumbing from the "modern" 1927 addition to the house and replacing everything with more viable alternatives.

And throughout the demolition process, we listened to the Bee Gees' Greatest Hits. On repeat.

This is a tradition that started years ago when we bought the old house. Back then it had holes in the roof and no working front door; you couldn't safely walk across the dining room floor for a while without fear of fall through into the basement. We worked on the house for weeks to make it livable and to pass time we listened to music on the portable cd player. Only problem was -- and this is inexplicable and embarrassing for an old punk rocker like myself -- the only cd we had in the house was the Bee Gees' Greatest Hits.

And so a tradition was born. Each time we demolish some part of the house, we listen to the Bee Gees. And inevitably, whenever I hear 'Tragedy' or 'More Than a Woman' played at the shopping mall or at the doctor's office, I immediately begin to develop a desire to swing a sledgehammer through drywall.

I tell you this because I have been thinking a lot recently about the power of music to 'locate' us in a place. When I was growing up, my mother always yelled at me for listening to music while I was doing my homework; but I think it rather eased my mind and made me more interested in the work at hand. I listened to jazz incessantly all through college and still can't hear Miles or Monk or Dolphy without totally grooving into my analytical state of mind.

And so, in opposition to the advice of past mentors, I most often have music playing in class. I stream everything directly from Pandora which allows for some useful pedagogical techniques. Pandora is an Internet-based music system within which you can create your own 'radio stations' which then stream music based upon what artists or styles you 'seed' the station with.

So, first, because I can set the general range of what is going to play (in terms of style or genre) I have an idea about what we're going to listen to, yet I happily remain surprised myself at what often come out of the speakers. In other words, just having music play softly in class -- and allowing Pandora to choose what we'll listen to on a song-by-song basis -- actually helps invigorate my own very audio-oriented mind. Sometimes I'll hear something I either had never heard or something I haven't heard in a long time and I'll suddenly feel a spark go through me pushing me to dig further into whatever matter at hand we are covering in class.

Second, music is a wonderful class management tool. I will often sit down and talk with the class before assigning an in-class small group project. I promise them that we can listen to music so long as they keep on track. On those occasions when we have individual work to do, the music often transforms our admittedly rather mundane classroom into a swanky cafe where the students actually tell me that they feel different about doing work than in other classes.

Third, music and sound is absolutely the most common yet least utilized pedagogical tool. When I am leading a discussion about Baroque Italian art in Art History, I've got Pandora set to play Italian Baroque music. When I'm teaching loops in my Digital Audio class, we listen to Hip-Hop. And none of the students have yet to put together why we listen to so much Brazilian and Cuban music during Latin class.

But they will.

Because I am convinced that the audio-locations set into their minds and memories through the streaming of hour-upon-hour of Portuguese-rendered Tropicalia will act like a bookmark ever linking the Romance Languages to their Latin Roots.

Check out Pandora. Just refrain from playing any Bee Gees while I'm around.


  1. I can totally relate to your desire and need to listen to music when one is working physically and mentally. I too grew up listening to music while doing homework in the kitchen and watching the first videos on MTV while doing homework in college. I feel much more relaxed and creative with good tunes playing in the background. When I clean the house, I blast a medley of old punk music on my IPod like the Ramones, Sonic Youth, and the Replacements. When my family is eating dinner or doing quiet work, we are listening to Wilco, the Lemonheads, or Cake. In turn, we have raised our three kids to appreciate all sorts of music, and they too fill their lives with their own music and other artists' music. We remember certain new CD releases when we think about certain road trips and family events. We often think about how empty life would be without song.

    I too enjoy playing music during class when students are working on quiet assignments. I will use Pandora more often now based on your suggestions. I have mostly relied on my IPod, but then students spend too much time critiquing my music instead of working. At least with Pandora, it feels less personal, even though certain styles of music play based on the teacher's or students' choices. I am really glad to read your blog, because I second guess my choice to play music while students are working. I don't want to distract students either, so I am sometimes nervous about playing tunes during work. I do, however, play music at the start and end of class. I get a kick out of surprising students with my selection of music, because you see I too am an "old punk rocker."

  2. I love playing music during my classes. A friend told me about Pandora and I fell in love with the possibilities.

    Two days later, the district blocked. Same thing happened with Twitter. I understand block Pandora. Streaming anything takes bandwidth. If everyone in the school did this, the network would crawl. Twitter, I don't understand blocking. That's a whole different comment.

    Another friend let me use her Enya CDs. Now I have those in my iTunes at school. No variety but it's something.


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.